By Josh LaBella
When the West Haven Community House was founded in 1941, founder Pauline Lang wanted to serve residents from ages 3 to 93. Patricia Stevens says the organization does their best to bring that goal to fruition.
Stevens has been the executive director of the Community House since 2005. Before that she was associate executive director for nearly 20 years. Stevens said the storied nonprofit was founded to help children and families.
“Over the past 75 years we have had a lot of configurations,” said Stevens. “But right now, we have like three general components.”
The first component, said Stevens, is school readiness. The Community House actualizes this through their head start program, which is a preschool program that serves 144 families in the city.
Stevens said the second element is children and youth services. The director said this comes in the form of before and after school programs as well as assisting children in need of remedial help in the lower functioning schools.
The third component is serving adults with intellectual disabilities. Stevens said the program is called Community Connections.
“It’s both day and residential,” said Stevens. “We have about 100 clients in the day program and 23 in our residential program.”
Stevens made a point to say that, while there are three main components of the Community House services, there are many other programs they run and subcomponents within each category. She also said the agency collaborates and works with other West Haven entities such as The West Haven Emergency Assistance Taskforce and the department of Youth and Family Services.
Stevens attended Southern Connecticut University where she studied social work. After graduating, she worked with the Red Cross in recruiting blood donors and organizing events. She worked there for 11 years and during that time said she did “a little bit of everything.”
When Stevens got pregnant with her first child, she took some time off but eventually returned to the Red Cross for another two years. She said around that time she decided the work was “a little bit too much” and applied for a job at the Community House.
“I live in West Haven,” said Stevens. “I come from West Haven. I thought, ‘how hard could it be?’ You drive down the street to go to work, whereas before I was travelling the state.”
Peter Schwartz was the executive director when she was hired. Stevens said they could not figure out the title for her job when she started but eventually settled on assistant administrator. She said in this role she did whatever needed doing.
When she became pregnant with her second child, Stevens said she decided she could not work anymore. She remained home until a year later when the woman who took her position also got pregnant.
“Peter called me and asked me to come back,” said Stevens. “I came back and I’m still here. What I really like about this agency is that the work is really diversified. It isn’t boring.”
The executive director said the organization allowed for a variety of work. She eventually got her masters degree from the University of New Haven in Community psychology. She said this degree helped her as she began to oversee many programs.
Schwartz retired in 2005 and Stevens was promoted to executive director. Stevens said she is thinking about retiring soon but wants to ensure she does not “leave a mess” when she exits the agency.
She said it is important the West Haven community understands their work – social services. According to Stevens, part of the “beauty” of the Community House is how many people do get involved in helping them.
Stevens said the work can be challenging. She said it can be hard to retain employees, who need specialized backgrounds, with the relatively low pay that comes with the job. She also said they are always searching for more grants and fundraising opportunities to keep their programs running. Additionally, Stevens said they are always looking at ways they can better serve the various communities that fall under their purview.
Stevens said she is proud of the work that they do.
“I certainly like the fact that, I believe, we have an impact on the community,” said Stevens. “I’m happy that I could be a part of that. I wasn’t here when it started. But, hopefully, it’ll be around longer than me.”